This Day in the Law
June 20

Oliver Ellsworth Names American Government "United States" (1787)

On June 20, 1787, Oliver Ellsworth suggesting replacing the phrase "national government" with "government of the United States" as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ellsworth’s simple and seemingly unimportant decision to identify the new government of the thirteen colonies as the "United States" was passed as an amendment to the Constitution without any dissent.

Ellsworth was not the first individual to call the new American government the United States. Thomas Paine had already described the thirteen colonies as "United States" in his letters to King George III, and Thomas Jefferson used the phrase "The United States of America" in the Declaration of Independence. However, Ellsworth proposed retaining the name for the new nation and government. And Governor Morris added "of America," as it is used today, in the final draft of the U.S. Constitution.

Oliver Ellsworth played a prominent role throughout the young nation’s birth. He acted as a lawyer, statesman, revolutionary against the British, and drafter of the U.S. Constitution, and was nominated a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Ellsworth was even appointed to Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but he was quickly overshadowed by his successor, John Marshall.

Today, the "United States" of America owes its namesake to a man who served his country in many capacities – Oliver Ellsworth.